Claire Fuller on the Real Life Location that Inspired Bitter Orange
When I’m setting out on a new book I usually start with just one character, in a place. I put them there and watch to see what they will do. I let the action unfold and the location with it, as though I’m panning outwards to discover where they are. The beginnings of Bitter Orange worked the same way. It started with a character — Frances — looking through a spyhole she’d found in her bathroom floor. She was in an attic, and as I pulled away I realised she was in an English country house, one that was no longer inhabited, or really inhabitable.
The house in the book — Lyntons — is based on a real English country house about ten miles from where I live, called The Grange. A boyfriend took me there in the 1980s. He drove me out in his car, and although I remember thinking the house was wonderful: neoclassical with two sets of double-storey pillars, I have to admit it was having a boyfriend with a car that I was most excited about.
I’ve been back many times since, especially after I decided to locate my novel there. The interior of the house is rarely open to the public, but I asked English Heritage (the charity that manages it) if someone could give me a tour. I met Richard, the caretaker, one weekday morning when there was no one else around, and he took me in through the front door. There is no furniture inside the house, most of the fireplaces and plaster moulding have been ripped out, and many of the ceilings have nets underneath them to catch falling debris. The house was scheduled for demolition in the early 1970s, and everything of value was stripped out and sold. Walking around the echoing rooms, up to the attics, and through the basement was very eerie, and I wouldn’t have liked to be there alone. As we went from room to room Richard told me ghost stories, one of which has made it into my third novel.
If a reader of Bitter Orange were to wander around the interior of the actual house, the order and number of rooms wouldn’t match those in the novel. I gave my house a library with a metal balcony, and an orangery with a secret room hidden behind the ivy. Although, come to think of it, I forgot to look for that when I last visited The Grange.
Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller